Inspiring Speakers

The American Horticultural Society is proud to introduce its Opening Keynote Speaker for the 2023 National Children & Youth Garden Symposium.

Opening Keynote Speaker Chris Battle of BattleField Farms & Gardens will expand on our 2023 theme Cultivating Community through Gardening. Listen to his motivational words, get inspired, and take action by joining us for Volunteer Day at BattleField Farms as a closing Symposium activity on Saturday afternoon. 

Closing Keynote Speaker Michael Craig is the winner of the 2023 American Horticultural Society Jane L. Taylor Award for inspiring and nurturing future horticulturists through efforts in children’s and youth gardening. He will share the techniques, methods, adaptive equipment, and process that makes the Drew Horticulture Program in Detroit a national model of excellence, attracting others from across the country to visit and replicate within their local communities.

Cultivating Community through Gardening
Chris Battle, BattleField Farms & Gardens 

Knoxville community leader Pastor Chris Battle will share about his journey to create BattleField Farms & Gardens, which, with its city-wide network, addresses food justice issues and provides hundreds of underserved households with garden-grown produce. His project is an inspiring example of how gardening can cultivate community at both small and large scales. Battle will offer guidance for how attendees can identify needs in their own communities and organize to address those needs through gardening. 

About Chris Battle
Chris Battle is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. He did his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He furthered his education with a Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and later a Master of Arts in Hebrew Bible at Cincinnati Bible College. He has pastored congregations in Bowling Green, Ky, Hackensack, NJ, Cincinnati, OH and Knoxville, TN. 

In 2018 his life trajectory changed when he began a community garden across the street from Tabernacle Baptist Church where he served as pastor. With that garden, he started understanding the effect of food disparity in his community. During the process, he knocked on doors to rally neighbors around the idea of the garden. He ended up discovering just how disconnected he was from his community. The next year, he had the opportunity to farm on two acres which had been the site of the Abby Field urban garden, renaming it Battlefield Farm.  When development closed this site, an opportunity to purchase the current location arose.   

Pastor Battle also started a farmers’ market at Tabernacle Baptist Church in 2018. The Eastside Sunday Market is in its 5th year at its current location at the Dr. Walter Hardy Park. Battle works with other churches seeking to establish gardens on their grounds and he has recently begun utilizing a food truck to distribute fresh excess product to underserved communities.  He presently is the Lead Pastor of the Harvest Fellowship and he and his wife, Tomma, are the parents of 19 children. 

From 2016 to 2018, Pastor Chris Battle served as the co-President of Justice Knox, a community organization gathering diverse faith groups seeking to work together to tackle pressing community issues in Knox County. In addition to his duties as president during the first, difficult years of this young organization, he has been active on the Education and Gun Violence research committees. He has also served as the Creation Care representative to the national organization on how environmental issues affect our community lives. 

Vocational Horticulture and Transition with Exceptional Students: Drew Horticulture Program
Michael Craig, Detroit Public Schools Community District/Charles Drew Transition Center, 2023 American Horticultural Society Jane L. Taylor Award Winner

Special Education Teacher/Horticulture Program Director Michael Craig will share the innovative techniques designed to accommodate students with disabilities using differentiated methods and adaptive equipment carefully chosen to provide each student the opportunity to participate and gain valuable vocational horticulture skills leading to possible employment. Winner of the 2021 Grand Prize National Magna Award, this comprehensive program showcases the transition process through hands-on experiences producing food products for fine dining establishments in Detroit, retail outlets, food pantry donations and sale at our nation’s largest and oldest food hub, Eastern Market. He will highlight the techniques and plans for creating what is the nation’s largest Farm to School/Table program, including the development of corporate/educational partners to aid and maintain the program’s viability and sustainability, obtaining grant funds, and staff/community involvement.

About Michael Craig
Michael Craig is a special education teacher and horticulture program instructor at the Charles R. Drew Transition Center in the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) in Michigan, where he runs and supervises the Gardens at Drew. The Center is a postsecondary vocational school for adult students who have moderate to severe cognitive deficits. He founded the program eight years ago to help students gain functional independence, a purpose and connection within society, and possible future employment in horticulture.

The Gardens serve as a national model of excellence. Through Craig’s carefully designed interactive teaching methods and curriculum, students learn every step of the horticulture process, from planting and management to harvest and retail sale. The student-grown produce is available at a low cost for students, families, and the local community at the on-site school farm stand.

Craig also initiated a partnership with Michigan State University’s School of Agriculture to research, recommend, and integrate a Science/Food Nutrition/School Horticulture curriculum to support school garden programs and gardening curricula at 82 DPSCD elementary and middle schools. He oversees the program to ensure the schools continue to receive materials, supplies, and supplemental science curriculum components for their school garden programs.

He also successfully applied for a major grant to create a therapeutic sensory butterfly garden that helps special needs students overcome the many triggers that negatively affect their learning capabilities.